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Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement$
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Helen O'Connell

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199286461

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199286461.001.0001

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Introduction: The Aesthetics of Plainness

Introduction: The Aesthetics of Plainness

(p.1) Introduction: The Aesthetics of Plainness
Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement

Helen O’connell

Oxford University Press

This book examines a particular strain of realism that found expression in the ‘improvement’ fiction of post-Union Ireland. Strongly didactic and assertively realistic, Irish improvement fiction laboured to address the squalid condition of post-Union Ireland by instructing both peasants and landowners in a range of practical matters such as agricultural modernization and the effective administration of estates. Improvement fiction was addressed to landowners and the upper classes as well as the peasantry in a sustained effort to create a shared textual frame of reference in post-Union Ireland. As such, it was an attempt to redefine the textual culture of the period, displacing aestheticism, fantasy, romance, and political extremism with a strongly practical and realistic body of writing. This realism was itself entwined in a larger project to formulate a liberalism that would provide the necessary conditions for modernization in Ireland.

Keywords:   Irish literature, improvement fiction, peasantry, Ireland, landowners, didactic tract, aesthetics, plainness, Mary Leadbeater, William Carleton

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